Flying to Miami, visiting the biggest island amongst the Turks and Caicos Islands, through the Dominican Republic, Curacao and Cuba, as well as days at sea, here's how to see the beautiful Caribbean. Penny Alexander took her husband and two children, Gylan, 6, and Lily, 8, aboard the Carnival Breeze to sail around the southern Caribbean. How would they cope with eight days at sea and, most importantly, who would have the most fun?
Penny, 37: Here we are in Miami after our flight from the UK, watching films and munching Love Hearts courtesy of Virgin Atlantic. We dragged the flagging kids through passport control on their Trunkis. But spirits are high as tomorrow we board an eight-day cruise to Grand Turk, the Dominican Republic, Curacao
and Aruba. We can’t wait!
Gylan, 6: We were going where pirates sailed. I love pirates.
Lily, 8: I love palm trees.
Penny: After a blissful night in a Miami hotel, breakfast and a dip in the outdoor pool surrounded by palm trees and watched over by soaring buzzards, we were feeling truly alive and ready for our late-morning transfer to Carnival Breeze. On board, we shifted intoholiday mood instantly. There was a sail-away party. A cocktail is obligatory as you watch each port dramatically reveal itself before
Lily: Miami had loads of skyscrapers and palm trees. Gylan spotted a pirate boat. Daddy kept pointing out all the houses he wanted to buy.
Penny: Cruise ship bedrooms are a lot like those display units at Ikea where they fit an entire house into a large box and make it function perfectly – our luggage soon vanished into cupboards. We are staying in an ocean room with a generous double bed, plus three bunks and two bathrooms.
Penny: After a leisurely arrival day we had the whole of Sunday at sea. Plenty of time to check out the onboard entertainment options.
Lily: Gylan cheated at mini golf, we made up our own rules to shuffleboard and learned how to play giant chess. Daddy did the rope walk while we waved from the table football. Mummy watched me disappear down a water slide off the side of the shipbut Daddy met me at the bottom. Then I did it five more times.
Gylan: The WaterWorks had sprays and water pistols. I liked dragging Daddy under the bucket of water.
Lily: The Camp Carnival leaders were fun and friendly, like the babysitter we had in Cornwall that Mummy wouldn’t let us bring home. It was bright and full of new toys and crafts.
Gylan: I liked the video games.
Penny: The food in the onboard restaurants was included in the price, exceeded all expectations and was incredibly flexible.
Lily: When I wasn’t too busy in Camp Carnival, I ate with my family in the restaurant. There was a kids’ menu so we didn’t have to eat weird stuff like Mummy’s vegetarian options, Caribbean food or Daddy’s alligator. In the Lido you could choose anything you wanted; mountains of fruit and cake and salad – not like school dinners where you just get given a plate.
Gylan: I liked making my own burgers with Daddy at Guy’s and the waiter making rabbits out of serviettes.
Penny: Rik and I had some wonderful child-free meals in the restaurant while the kids made friends in Camp Carnival. For a small supplement, we ate in the more intimate setting of the JiJi Asian Kitchen and the Steakhouse, giving us time to
reflect. We also relaxed on Serenity, the child-free deck.
Penny: We embarked at Grand Turk at 7am, our earliest start, but absolutely achievable with room-service breakfast and a siesta afterwards. First stop, Governor’s Beach and the FlowRider, a surf simulator.
Gylan: The kids won the FlowRider!
Penny: Next stop, a magical experience at the Grand Turk Indigenous Horse Shelter.
Lily: We went horse riding along the seashore; the horses took us inright up to our tummies. I was a bit scared, but my horse Titi did all the steering.
Penny: Then a 10-minute boat trip from the port to Gibbs Cay, a truly unspoilt beach, where we stroked and kissed a ray.
Lily: Rays feel really soft. They wanted to play – they didn’t try to swim away at all. Until Mummy kissed one.
Penny: We opted for a restaurant breakfast overlooking the sea. The kids wanted ‘dippy eggs’ and we quite fancied being leisurely.
Lily: The best bit of the Dominican Republic was the Cave of Wonders. The guide told me what the 1,000-year-old cave paintings meant.
Gylan: I liked shouting and pretending to be a caveman.
Lily: Then we met iguanas, which come from the Dominican Republic. They made us giggle. I didn’t know they could climb trees.
Gylan: And fight and pull stupid faces at each other.
Penny: Then back to the ship via wonderful slices of Dominican life from the coach window, smiling people, babies on mums’ knees on motorbikes, and sugar cane being transported by train.
Penny: We arrived at Curacao at 2.30pm on Wednesday, perfect timing for a lie-in, swim and Lido lunch, followed by an afternoon at Cabana Beach.
Lily: We built sandcastles with coral turrets. Lazy Mummy and Daddy lay on beds in straw huts. Back at the ship we begged to go to Camp Carnival for the party.
Gylan: And Mummy and Daddy went on a date. Yuk.
Penny: Curacao was the only time we left the kids on board – they wanted to see friends and party. We were confident they were in expert hands; the childcare was really high quality. Curacao oozes romance – fairy-lit bridges over the river and stunning Dutch buildings. Down a cobbled street, we ate at a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the sea and the bright lights of Carnival Breeze.
Later that evening, back on the ship, we picked up the sleeping kids, snuggled under fleece blankets, and carried them back to their bunks.
Penny: Aruba is stunningly beautiful, you can see why The Beach Boys list it as the first real island to escape to, in their song about lovers running off to the fictitious Caribbean island, Kokomo. ‘Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I want to take ya. Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama.’
We disembarked Carnival Breeze and joined an organised tour on an Atlantis submarine. A shuttle vessel, Sub Seeker, took us on a short ride out to sea. On the way to the submarine, we looked for flamingos but were very happy to settle for pelicans. The Sub Seeker stopped abruptly in the middle of the sea.
‘Come on in,’ called the Atlantis submarine crew. ‘It’s like climbing in the playground!’ The kids were down the hatch of the submarine in seconds.
Lily: We played fish bingo.
Gylan: We saw a barracuda making little fish clean his teeth and a pirate shipwreck. I told everyone a story about pirates kicking sharks’ butts.
Lily: Then we got on a crazy rainbow bus with funny music and no glass in the windows.
Penny: Banana buses ferry cruisers around Aruba; the smiling driver and reggae music instantly put us in a fantastic mood. Aruba unfolded out of the window, stunningly beautiful.
We stopped at Eagle Beach to swim and collect shells and fossils, then lay watching palm trees sway in the breeze. Paradise.
Next, a catamaran trip. There is nothing like the feeling of dangling your feet over the front of a speeding catamaran. Having seen the ocean from the submarine, I felt suddenly braver.
Lily: Mummy snorkelled! We watched fish with Daddy through the catamaran’s net. I saw a big leopard-print fish.
Penny: Our cruise finished with two blissful days at sea. Highlights were the Jacuzzi, spa and mocktails served in pineapples. We watched the ship’s dentist/chef ice-carving a very intricate horse. Many of the ship’s staff have dual roles, as well as secret talents. His attention to detail was impressive; it was good to know you would be in expert hands in a dental emergency.
Penny: Our final day was spent in Miami, eating ice-cream, shopping in Bayside Marina and feasting our eyes on the skyscrapers from the people mover, before boarding an evening flight to London.
Taking a cruise made adventurous sightseeing and activities an absolute breeze. Looking at our progress on the map was exciting; waking up somewhere new gave our sightseeing momentum. Our floating, family-friendly hotel was both a familiar base and truly relaxing holiday in itself. We loved the homeliness of our room, freshly-made beds, the kids’ teddy bears snuggled up beside a new towel-animal friend, and chocolates.
Taking a cruise fully catered to the whole family’s needs – it was a lovely, relaxing way to see the world unfold together.
Carnival offers an eight-night Exotic Southern Caribbean Cruise from £1,519 for a family of four, cruise only (Miami, Aruba, Curacao, Grand Turk and Miami) including all meals, youth programmes and onboard activities.
Return flights to Miami are extra.